On most Israeli campuses, the most fun day of the year is Student Day, the annual beginning-of-the-year festivity which typically features leading entertainers. At some universities, students even get to vote online for their performer of choice. Some campuses go so far as to stretch Student Day entertainment over several days, filling the time with activities, performances, pool parties and a lot of alcohol. In addition to Student Day, there are often other fun days sponsored by corporate entities, typically beverage companies, where students have the opportunity to engage in unlikely challenges, such as sliding off a campus building.
The rest of the year, most of the partying can be found off campus, in student pubs and bars or student-exclusive party lines, with prices usually adjusted to the limited financial capabilities of their clientele. While the big nights out in the major cities are Thursday and Friday, those studying at colleges in the periphery tend to make the most of the weeknights, since they usually go home for the weekend. The students of Sapir College in Sderot, for example, alternate among the local kibbutz pubs in the region.
For those staying put on the weekend, many student unions organize communal pot luck Kabalat Shabbat dinners. There is even the growing tradition of Kalabat Shabbat, rumored to have originated at Haifa University, where emphasis is put on the cultural rather than religious aspect of Friday night dinner, such as the sense of family and having a good time.
Yoga, theater and more
On most campuses, there is a plethora of affordable extracurricular activities from which to choose, ranging from yoga and Pilates to theater, photography, singing, dance, debating and more. At Ben-Gurion University, there is a Rocky Horror Picture Show Theater Group, which puts on a highly sought-after performance once a semester. Tel Aviv University has countered with the Small Stage Festival, a platform for showcasing the independent art of students studying theater and other art forms. The theatrical offerings are complemented by street and puppet theaters and musical performances. To encourage students to participate in extracurricular activities, some universities organize a hobby week bazaar in the beginning of the year.
A different kind of outlet can be found in the campus sports centers, which all universities and some colleges have. Here, at a reasonable price, students can gain access to a pool, gym, sports courts and exercise classes. There is nothing like a quick work-out to release tension before a big test, or a few laps in the pool to clear your head after handing in a seminar paper.
If your roommate got on your nerves again, or you just need a study break, the campus student club is always a good place to relax and socialize. There are also political clubs and social clubs that one can join, such as the Hillel Center, which can be found on many campuses.
On the larger campuses in particular, there is always something going on, be it a movie screening, stand-up comedy session, lecture, or a social game. At Tel Aviv University, for example, Wednesdays are reserved for Rock on Campus, where well-known and young artists take to the stage. This is followed the next day by Thursday on Campus, a cultural event that mixes music, dance, sports and arts activities on the campus lawns. At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Musicology Department is behind the Monday Afternoon Concert Series.
Giving back to the community is a standard part of academic and student union agendas, and there is always some volunteering initiative one can join. The students of Ben-Gurion University, for instance, often find themselves before the holidays spreading a fresh coat of paint in the houses of underprivileged city dwellers.
Many Haifa University students join the activities arranged by social workers in Haifas poorer communities.
This contribution is particularly pertinent in times of unrest. During Operation Pillar of Defense, some Beersheva students volunteered to entertain kids in Soroka Medical Centers bomb shelter, while those from Sapir College stood guard in Sderot bus stops, assisting children to find cover when the sirens went off.
And if all the offerings above were not enough to fill students extracurricular schedules, there is always the time honored tradition of basking in the sun on one of the campuss lush lawns. One can only take comfort in this richness of offerings, for it is only by opting to move beyond the books and becoming an active participant in student life that the years spent obtaining a degree become a truly memorable, at times even life-changing, experience.